Thursday, 8 March 2012

Stuck between a rock and a hard place

I currently feel trapped. Stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Before I started my degree back in October, I spoke to many different people (mainly in Student Finance) who all advised me that the childcare support I received would not be means tested. I applied to student finance and was told I would receive an adequate amount of support. Admitedly, it turned out that childcare is means tested and that they would only help with 10% of our childcare bill based on my husband's salary, but it was better than nothing. Fast forward two months and I received a letter saying that I was no longer entitled to any help with childcare, and my student grants decreased by £2000.

Now, our childcare is not extortionate, but with two children under three, we are paying as much as we ever will. Our average childcare per month is £800. When you compare this with our mortgage of £586, you realise the problem. We are not an extravagant family. Our clothes are either hand-me-downs, from ebay or charity shops. I scrimp and save wherever I can.

My main bugbear, and what we really struggle with, is our travel costs. My husband works in Manchester, a three hour round trip daily. I travel to Lancaster to University, a round trip of two hours each day I go in (three days a week). This amounts to £628 in travel costs a month (again, more than our mortgage). Something that Student Finance will not take into account.

Whilst we appear to be well off on paper, when you take our monthly travel into account, we are left in our overdraft before we have even thought about feeding a family of four. Our main expenses are childcare, travel (to and from Uni/work) and our mortgage. These alone add up to £2014 per month. My husband earns less than this a month. I haven't added any bills, council tax or food into this equation.

So, you see my predicament. If I stay at University, I hopefully get a good degree and an equally good salary. This isn't guaranteed of course. But also, in addition to my student debt, I get a rather large overdraft debt. Ultimately, is it all worth it? 

I'm sure some of you are questioning why I don't get a holiday or weekend job. Well, the answer is simple. I am on a career break from my job in the NHS. One of the terms of this career break is that I cannot work at all during the break, not even in my old role. I could just quit and get a job, but then I have to pay back my maternity pay because my career break started as my maternity leave ended, which I can't afford to do.

So, here is my tale of the rock and the hard place. I'm firmly wedged between the two and it's painful. I worry that I'm not doing the right thing, that my family are suffering and it's all my fault.

I hope that this hasn't come across as a rant or a tale of woe. I don't want sympathy. We chose this situation. Admittedly we chose the situation when we were under the impression that we would receive help with our childcare costs. Our childminder is increasing her fees from April, so we will be even more strapped for cash, although student finance will not assess this increase until August!

I want the government to be made aware of the fact that hard working families are being hit hard by their cuts. We want to work and better ourselves but it is increasingly difficult. With fuel prices rising, I honestly do not know how much longer we can keep up the pretence of managing. I am studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics, with a view to possibly becoming an MP one day. I only hope I listen to the people, not the ones who shout the loudest, but the ones who really matter.


  1. I reckon your predicament is similar for many people. The government encourage people to be well educated yet are unwilling to help. Do they expect a mother of 2 children to just give up and live a life she doesn't really want? Or will they ever be prepared to help "everyone" who wants to better themselves rather than just the families who can massively afford to take time off work and study. It's a vicious circle, but while this government continue to make cuts and refuse to help genuinely hard working people like yourself, that rock and hard place will always be visible.

    I wish you lots of luck in getting this situation sorted out.
    CJ x

    1. Thank you so much. I imagine there are plenty of others in a similar situation. It's rubbish. Maybe it's just my fault for having children!

  2. There is something not right about the paying back maternity thing. If you are not being paid while on a career break, I suspect you need to get someone to take a look at your contract for you. Get yourself to a citizens advice bureau.


    1. It's because the NHS pay extra on top of SMP - so as an incentive to go back to work, you have to go back for at least three months or else you pay back the extra they paid you. As I haven't been back following my maternity, I have to go back for at least three months when my career break finishes.

  3. Thanks for linking up to the Love Politics Blogs Showcase. It must be so stressful to have the goalpost changed like this when you're trying to make ends meet.

    We have similar issues with childcare now I'm working full time. My husband and I both have good salaries on paper but by the time you take out childcare and the fact I'm still paying back my student loan every month mine essentially disappears. In the short term we'd actually be better off if I didn't work until both boys were at school (which just seems crazy) but of course then I'd have been out of work for seven years and my career would be down the pan.

    It does seem so short sighted not to provide more support for young working families when they have so much potential to contribute more in terms of tax over the course of their lives than they'd ever receive in these few preschool years.

    My only advice is that you can't worry about the things you can't do (like getting a part time job if you're not allowed to) so just consider the options you do have (stay at uni, stay at home or go back to the NHS) and know you'll make the best choice you can for your family even if it's not ideal. Good luck!

    1. Thank you - that is such a good response. We're going to really look into everything over the Easter break and see if there is a chance we can afford for me to stay at Uni. It's possible for me to defer for a year and still only pay my current fees but I just don't know. There's just so much to consider at the moment!

  4. On a positive note at least the term after your child turns 3 you will receive a "nursery voucher" which covers 15 hours a week of childcare costs.
    I was a single parent when I went to University and also struggled - but it is well worth it - and I'm a SAHM now.
    Is there no other forms of help from the University in the form of a hardship fund?

    1. Thank you! The nursery voucher should help. My son has just turned three and will start at pre-school in Sept. The childminder will have to drop him off and pick him up so we will unfortunately still have similar childcare costs.

      The hardship fund is also means tested which is a real pain!


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